Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gameday Links: Game 2 vs. Cavs Edition

Mike Woodson on Al Horford's status:
"I’d rather give him a couple of days of rest and have him healthy for Game 3 rather than pushing him now and making it worse."
Sekou Smith, in his latest blog post:

The first thing you hear in the Hawks’ locker room after a bad loss is, “We didn’t play together. We didn’t help each other out. We’ve got to blah, blah, blah.”

If you think I’m making this stuff up, here’s a sampling (edited ever so slightly to omit the verbal offender’s specific identity) of what’s come out of the mouths of your Hawks after playoff losses the past few weeks:

“We just have to play with a sense of urgency like we did in Game 1. We have to get after them defensively. And as long as we share the ball offensively, I think everything else on the floor clicks.”

“We’re up against it now. And we’ve got look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that we can’t get out of this mess without doing it together.”

“We’ve just got to pick up our intensity. We’ve got to do a lot of things. But it all stems from our effort. We have to play hard as a unit. That’s the key for us. And we have to bring that [today]. Because our backs are against the wall now, really against the wall. We’re going to see what this team is made of.”

“We came out and talked about hitting them first and not letting things get out of hand early like they did in Game 2. But we let them hit us first again.”

“We lost our composure, no doubt. Things weren’t going our way, calls weren’t going our way and we lost it. We let them build that big lead and it got to us. We were never in sync defensively and we just didn’t handle ourselves well.”

“In the second half we just didn’t get into any offensive sets. We were careless with the ball. We had too many turnovers. Any time we have 17 turnovers it’s never a good night for us.”

“It was very disappointing, knowing that we’ve come this far. Looking back on the first series that we had (with Miami), that was very tough, and I thought we would come into this game a little more enthused and come ready to play. I thought we had a pretty good first half, but the second half wasn’t so great.”

It never fails.

Mark Bradley:
These Hawks said they wanted to improve their record, have the home court edge in Round 1 and advance to Round 2. They managed all of the above. To lose now to the top-seeded Cavaliers in a competitive series would be no disgrace. But they don’t want to be embarrassed four games running. That would cheapen them and their accomplishments. That would leave what has been a most palatable season with a sour aftertaste.
I'd like to offer a theory that appeals to me, in part, because it partially, retroactively redeems my 34-win prediction. What if this team over-achieved during the regular season? What if they maxed out their abilities and their bodies covering for the loss of their sixth man before the season and for injuries to all three of their frontcourt starters during the season and still winning ten more games than last year to secure home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs? Would it not make sense under that premise for the team to look, at times, woefully inferior to playoff opposition when missing two starters who are vital to both the team's spacing on offense and the team's defensive concept?

As I said, there's a self-serving element to that so I'm open to criticism but perhaps the primary lesson the organization should be taking from these blowout playoff losses is not one of effort, teamwork, or pride but that this roster needs more talent. I'd love to see Acie Law IV develop into a solid NBA point guard but if the head coach isn't going to play him he's not worth as much to this franchise as a point guard* that the head coach will play.

*And there has to be a competent point guard somewhere in the world that Mike Woodson would trust to use as a back up.

The good news, with regard to those even further down the depth chart than Law, is that it would be difficult to assemble a less useful collection of players to fill the end of the bench. The Hawks should be better, cumulatively, from players 10 through 15 next year. On a clear day I can even see a team taking Speedy Claxton's expiring contract.

Of course they could just as easily decide to bring back Mike Bibby and Pachulia* and try and repeat the trick. Should be an interesting summer.

*With Solomon Jones's "potential" as insurance.


rbubp said...

My own theory is that the Hawks are a pretty undisciplined bunch despite being an assortment of players who largely believe in a team concept.

I don't know how else to explain their Jekyll & Hyde home/road act. The biggest single factor that can be articulated is that on the road, when everything is against you in the NBA including the referees, and you don't have a coach who can exploit match-ups for a possession or three to help calm things down for you, an undisciplined team will tend to lose focus, rush things, forget fundamentals, and generally come apart. It takes the most discipline to be patient about your true strengths as a team and remember and execute the game plan when things are not going well. And the Hawks cannot keep it together for 48 minutes on the road.

At home, the crowd and the refs are there to provide support in a way that can lift confidence enough to remain focused, it would seem. But look, too, at the one home loss in the playoffs, and the Hawks' inability to rise up in that game too: you get this team down for long enough, or quickly enough, and they will fold. And you're crazy if you don't think that other teams are concentrating on that and that the best teams--the Cavs--are good enough to execute a game plan all the way through, or at least long enough to get to the point where the Hawks implode and the game plan barely even matters anymore.

Woodson's inabilities as a coach are quite exposed in the playoffs. Now everyone can see that once his team is down he has no ability to pull them out of it, whether through motivation, strategy, platooning, or anything else. Either these are the least coachable guys still in the playoffs, or he is a terrible coach, or some combination of the above.

I do think some of this can be blamed on injuries; it does limit the Hawks strategically. But last I hear, Joe Johnson was a three-time all-star who wanted to be considered amongst the best in the league. When do we get to the point that he lifts a tired, undisciplined, limited Hawks team to a rousing road performance through taking over a game with sheer will? When does he match D Wade or LeBron basket for basket to lift the rest of the team to stem the tide?

I don't the Hawks overachieved this year. I think they are a 47-35 team that plays very well at home and can beat terrible teams on the road; they are limited even at their very best. Now we just get to see their limitations exposed, and I'd like to say for the record that Jon Barry might not have been right about the numbers, but he was right about the sentiment: the Hawks are not serious. Not yet, anyway.

jrauch said...

Unless Joe answers the bell at some point in this series, I think we safely put to bed the idea he's a "great" player.

Good, yes. But not great. And it increasingly looks like he doesn't have whatever it takes to be "The Man" that he so desperately wanted to be when he was traded from Phoenix.

He'd make a great Second Banana though.

Bret LaGree said...

Joe Johnson might also benefit from playing for a head coach that doesn't spend half the season running him into the ground so he can barely make the All-Star team in an attempt to further perpetuate the lie that he's a franchise player.

Drew Ditzel said...

i still think we lost way too many games based on failed execution, effort, and coaching/subbing, to say the Hawks played the best they could play during the regular season.

on the other hand, you just stand pat with the talent and the coach of this team and you will never sniff something better than fourth. so in that sense, I could not agree more with your post.

Bret LaGree said...

I don't necessarily disagree with that Drew, but, had you been asked before the season whether the Hawks could win 47 games if 1) Josh Smith missed 13 games, 2) Al Horford missed 15 games, 3)Marvin Williams missed 21 games, and 4) Acie Law played significantly fewer minutes than his rookie season, would you have answered yes?

I'm thinking out loud a bit here trying to figure out if I just really underrated the team all year and am now patronizing them.

Drew Ditzel said...

i would have certainly said no.

but for me, the injuries give more fuel to my fire that this team is not at max potential. an actual back up point guard, a relatively injury free season, a new coach, continued development of three of the five starters. I certainly think you could see a five win improvement next year. of course, i dont think woodson will be fired though.

i get that they maxed out this season to an extent, but long term, i dont think this season was the max number of victories this core can produce.

Bret LaGree said...

Well, on that point we certainly agree.

jrauch said...

This core, with a different coach, I'm convinced can get to the 50-55 win level.
There's some huge hurdles they'd have to clear, but I think they can do it.
They need Josh Smith to become one of the top players at his position. There's no excuse for him or Al not to be a 20-10 guy. And with his freakish athleticism, I'd like to say he could be the next Shawn Kemp (minus the alcohol problem, naturally).
They also need to actually run some plays for Al, a novel concept, I know.

But that all gets back to coaching. Until they start running a more sensible offense and being consistent, I think this is the peak of what we'll get.

The coaching has to change. Who knows? We might find Josh more coachable by someone who actually inspires a bit of confidence.

Preston Heard said...

Kemp had a 48-inch vert. Not disagreeing about Al's potential, but he wouldn't really fit the same mold...

Jason Walker said...

The Hawks won (47) games and a playoff series by whacking teams that, for the most part, are less talented than they and winning at home.

Against really good teams, they weren't good.

There are few of those good teams in the league.

Therefore, they beat the teams they should have and lost to good teams--with a couple of outliers on both sides for flavor.

I don't think they overachieved, it's just the value of (47) wins in this league isn't all that high.